My alumni association (University of Colorado) recently sent out an article about how people should prepare themselves mentally for an upcoming vacation. I found that it touched close to home, so here's an abbreviated version for all of you who have trouble "switching it off."
Picture a sedan tearing down the autobahn, its engine redlining. The driver slams the brakes. The car skids, spins, slams into guardrails and finally stops. This is your brain starting a vacation. People are working at historic intensity, ever-connected and consumed by work. So it’s not surprising that even though your body might be comfortably prone on a beach towel, your brain is still scrolling through to-do lists back home. In fact it is unrealistic, experts say, to expect your thoughts to stop on a dime.
Letting go is something “you have to practice on a daily basis.” It can mean turning off your phone an hour before bedtime, or not looking at it first thing in the morning. If you are addicted not to the refresh button on your device but to intensity itself, try stepping away from that, too. Take a walk, or put your feet up on your desk and close your eyes for 10 minutes. Best yet, experts say, practice some kind of exercise or meditation designed to slow the mind.
Leave Your Context at Home
Habits are formed and reinforced by our physical context. Wake up in the same bed, see the clock, plod to the shower, drive to the office. Repeat. But habits aren’t merely physical; they’re emotional, too. Your physical surroundings reinforce your state of mind.
Habits of the mind aren’t easy to break in a few days, especially if you don’t change your context.
Which, it seems perhaps too obvious to point out, is why we go on vacation. But these days we are perhaps unaware of just how much of our everyday life we bring along, too. No, not the office or the commuter train, but the phone — that cubicle in your pocket.
Make a point to change your relationship with your device. Maybe leave it in one place and refuse to tote it around all day. Whatever you decide, see your gadget for what it is — a copper wire straight into the life you’re trying to escape.
Endure the Boredom
There you are, lying on a chaise by the pool, a book at the ready. But instead of sitting back and reading it, you are getting up every five minutes to see whether the adventure hut is open so you can schedule your water-Pilates instruction. Or you are at the lake house, breezes coming up off the water, and instead of enjoying them you are obsessing about a dinner party you’ve just arranged. What grain goes best with barbecued cod?! This is your brain still whirring, hunting and pecking, scanning for stimulus.
First, fight through the withdrawal — not just from your device but also from the constant need to be doing something. (If you find this unpleasant, and chances are you will, it doesn’t mean that your vacation is bad or that you hate your family.)
To help your brain along, researchers have a few thoughts. First, plunge into an absorbing but low-stakes activity — hiking, snorkeling, knitting a two-piece. Novel and unfamiliar tasks help tug our brains out of their ruts. Second, if you are up to a slightly higher level of difficulty, just observe your brain as it moves from thing to thing, hunts and pecks. Make a sport of watching it bounce from one thing to the next, a pinball slowly — you hope — losing momentum.
Get Over Yourself
Your workplace will not implode if you’re not there. Please don’t make me prove it to you using math. And the fact that it can keep running in your absence doesn’t mean you’ll return to a pink slip. Before I go on vacation, even for a week, I prepare as though I’m headed to the coroner. I empty the in-box, clean the piles on the desk, put away all the laundry, dust.
On the face of it I’m just getting my personal effects in order so that, presuming I survive my vacation, I also spend it worry-free, liberated to enjoy things to the fullest. But in the process, experts say, I am also significantly raising the stakes for my impending trip. And if some part of the vacation does not meet my expectations, I forget to enjoy the good parts
Channel the Three-Day Weekend
Sometimes with breaks, less can feel like more. Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Columbus Day (whenever that is) can seem more relaxing than a full week’s vacation. Why? It helps that on national holidays we are often getting a free day along with a lot of other people we work with. Less guilt. Less anxiety. But we also tend not to prepare for three days off with the same manic intensity as we do when preparing for a week off.
So before you leave, tie up whatever loose ends you can. But no double knots. Your mantra: it’s not a week’s vacation, it’s a series of two three-day weekends, plus a bonus day.
Stop Flirting With WorkDon't ruin your vacations by taking work with you, trying to get stuff done.
People do this for two reasons: we persuade ourselves that we can’t afford to do otherwise, and we actually believe we can be productive in these spurts on vacation.
In reality, working during a break doesn’t just interfere with your vacation; it can also prevent you from fully filling your creative tank before your return.
Don’t Worry About Re-Entry; Most of It’s Spam
“Who wants to come back from vacation to 1,000 e-mails?” No one wants to feel so buried that they’d wish they’d stayed home.The solution, however, is not keeping up with e-mail on vacation, not wanting to fall behind.
Stop checking e-mail. Really relax. You may return to hundreds of e-mails, but not only will you survive, so will your vacation.